Sunday’s Child (Remastered And Expanded)

Sunday’s Child was recorded and mixed during August 1974 at Island Studios in Hammersmith and released in January 1975. The sessions were short but intensive, producing songs of considerable contrasts from the rock ‘n’ roll Root Love and Clutches, to the traditional folk song Spencer The Rover. The overall feel of the album is one of contentment and John called it “the family album, very happy purely romantic…a nice period.”

Music is a constantly evolving language, a shifting landscape of creativity where artists emerge, gain recognition and often subside into obscurity. Few artists successfully transverse this creative landscape and receive the recognition for innovation that they deserve. Remarkably talented, compassionate and often forthright, John Martyn is one such artist who has influenced and inspired whole generations of new musicians. Just when you feel that you’ve heard all he has to offer, when you’ve finally pinned down and categorised his music, he undergoes yet another metamorphosis. Folk? Blues? Reggae? Jazz? Rock? Trip Hop? Funk? John refuses to conform to any particular music genre whilst simultaneously embracing them all. His guitar playing has evolved over the years – acoustic guitar in the 60s, to electro-acoustic in the 70s with a wah wah pedal, fuzz box and echoplex, to the 80s which saw him playing electric guitar almost exclusively in a full band setting and the 90s which saw trip hop and funk enter his music.

There was no Hogwarts for John his guitar wizardry is self-taught; a truly progressive artist who has never been one to stay with a tried and trusted sound, preferring to explore, experiment and break new ground bringing new ideas, colours and textures to his music. His live performances are legendary and many of the songs on John’s studio albums have evolved from exploring and pushing back accepted musical boundaries during these free and less structured live performances.

John is an incurable romantic who sings from his heart; no other artist sings with such commitment and emotion. People fall in and out of love listening his magical songs of deep sensitivity. John’s music is a barometer of our emotional state, our well being can be measured by the songs we listen to; passion and spirituality are at the heart of them all and in the heart of the man himself.

Sunday's ChildJohn Martyn was born Ian David McGeachy on 11th September 1948 in Beechcroft Avenue, New Malden, Surrey, the only son of two light opera singers Thomas Paterson McGeachy and Beatrice Jewitt. John’s parents separated when he was very young and his early childhood was spent being brought up by his father and grandmother in Glasgow. His grandmother instilled traditional Scottish values, “I was brought up with my grandmother and my father, I thought it was wonderful, I had a great time. The school was in walking distance and my grandmother being the old school kind of Victorian, she just treated me wonderfully.” His father taught him “how to fish and fuck and ride a bike!”

Glasgow was renowned for its shipbuilding and engineering industries but by the 1950s the demand for merchant and navy ships had dwindled. The declining city was a far from attractive place, and on many winter nights a thick smog enveloped the city so tightly that you could often see little more than a few yards in front of you. The old stone tenements of the Gorbals that Oscar Marzaroli had captured in his evocative photographs were being demolished and replaced with high rise blocks. John recalls it was a tough environment where “you went out and kicked a few heads or you were looked on as a pansy.”

John walked to school at the Shawlands Academy in Moss Side Road and later attended the Glasgow School of Art but was asked to leave after a couple of months! “I was thinking it was all going to be bohemian, listening to Rolling Stones records all day and smoke dope and drink coffee. That was going to be my life style and it didn’t work out that way.” His interest in music came from his parents but not just as a result of their profession, “my father was a bit of a raver… he had a Davey Graham record!” Davey Graham was to become one of the major influences on John’s music. I asked John about his childhood, “I was a cub scout!” He enthused. During the school holidays John stayed with his mother, “we had a houseboat on The Thames at Thames Ditton and then later opposite the Ship Hotel at Shepperton. The pub would be full of actors from the nearby film studios…a very strange bunch,” he added chuckling to himself. John saved up money from a paper round to buy his first guitar and learnt to play at fifteen years old. Aged seventeen, he left school and started to play in some of the local folk clubs under the wing of Hamish Imlach, who encouraged him to play and introduced him to many different music genres. Imlach, who could see the ability and promise in John, was born in Calcutta. He was a warm, generous man and a singer and blues guitarist with a considerable reputation.

Davey Graham, a groundbreaking musician credited with blurring the boundaries of folk, blues and jazz, was one of John’s first heroes, “he was the man who impressed me so much with his playing that I decided to go out and play myself. I had in fact heard him by 1965, and I was so impressed that I wanted to be Davey Graham or if I couldn’t be Davey Graham, I wasn’t going to be too far away from him. So I went out and bought a guitar.”

John’s first gig was somewhat unexpected; “Josh McCrae got drunk in the pub and could not appear. So I was given the gig, because I was the only one in the audience who could play the guitar and sing. And about four months after that I played in a place called The Black Bull in Dollar, which is outside Stirling. I got eleven quid for it, that was wonderful.” Clive Palmer, who owned Clive’s Incredible Folk Club in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, founded the Incredible String Band with Robin Williamson in the mid 1960s and became a good friend of John’s, “the best banjo player I ever heard and a lovely man.” John and Clive shared a flat and frequented the music pubs and clubs, “Those were wild times, and Clive was a remarkable man, a great musician and down to earth, absolutely no bullshit, taught me lots of things to play.” They subsequently lived in a dilapidated cottage in Cumbria, John recalls, “there was no electricity, no running water, but we played all day. You walked out the front and there was nothing. Just the moor. And a spring for your water. Fine days.”

With a growing reputation on the club circuit in the North John decided it was time to move on and travelled to London. There was a booming and vibrant music scene with new clubs opening all the time, “I was dossing in London, sleeping in Trafalgar Square and getting moved on by the fuzz.” He took the name John Martyn at the suggestion of his first agent Sandy Glennon. His new surname came from the makers of his favourite acoustic guitars; substituting the letter “i” for a “y” and the first name John for no other reason than it seemed plain and simple. John started playing in the clubs around London such as Les Cousins in Greek Street, Bunjie’s and the Kingston Folk Barge. “I was playing a club called Folk Barge in Kingston, and a fat man called Theo Johnson came up to me and said, ‘I will make you a star.’ Literally, quite literally! Verbatim! And I said, ‘Go ahead then,’ and he took the record to Chris Blackwell, he made a demo disc of two songs, and introduced me, and there you are!” Les Cousins, John recalls, was “a real buzz, a wonderful place.” Chris Blackwell, the son of a plantation owner, founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1959. The label took its name from the Alec Waugh novel Island In The Sun and early releases were by West Indian musicians, John reputably being the first white artist to sign to the label. Blackwell recalls, “I liked him and loved his voice so I signed him.”

London Conversation (IMCD319) was released when John was just nineteen years old and a little over a year later his second album The Tumbler (IMCD320) followed. John and Beverley’s Stormbringer (IMCD317) and in particular the songs Would You Believe Me and The Ocean featured the introduction of John’s echoplex guitar technique which was to play a key role in his studio albums and concert performances in the 1970s. The Road to Ruin (IMCD318) released in November 1970 was to be John and Beverley’s last album together. John had disagreements with producer Joe Boyd of Witchseason Productions over the album and, because of the numerous overdubs, felt that the recording lacked spontaneity. Bless The Weather (IMCD321) followed in November 1971 after Island decided that John should revert to recording solo, “they didn’t want to hear Beverley sing, which is a terrible thing, I still think they’re extremely wrong.” With a young family to look after this was a forced career break for Beverley. Bless The Weather was “very innocent, very beautiful and a pleasure to make.” John’s popularity and reputation was growing fast and he toured America supporting Free and Traffic.

John’s most well known album Solid Air (IMCD274) was released in February 1973. The title track was written for Nick Drake, a gentle introverted character who was struggling with depression. The song documents Nick’s mental turmoil and John’s empathy for his close friend. Sadly, Nick was to be found dead in his bedroom in his parents’ house after apparently taking an overdose of antidepressant medication on 25th November 1974.

John’s voice was now integrated with his music more than ever, his slurred delivery being used as another instrument on the emotionally deep and powerful album. Despite the success of Solid Air, John was driven from within to move on musically. Consequently his next album, Inside Out (IMCD322), is a very different offering, an intensely personal and expressively invigorating album, full of provocative experimentation with echoplex and distortion effects. Despite John’s enthusiasm for the echoplex, he has never allowed it to dominate his work and Sunday’s Child returned to a more traditional format being less demanding listening but remaining a powerfully personal account of John’s life.

The ever present Danny Thompson played bass, Liam Genockey drums, Kesh Sathie tabla (Indian drums) and John “Rabbit” Bundrick the piano. Tony Braunagel, Al Anderson and Terry Wilson also contributed. American Bundrick, had released his own solo albums and then played with pop-reggae singer Johnny Nash (I Can See Clearly Now) and Bob Marley on his album Catch a Fire before becoming an integral part of Kossoff / Kirke / Tetsu / Rabbit (IMCD139).

One Day Without You is mellow and almost languid with a compelling guitar riff adding weight and purpose. My Baby Girl, which featured Beverley on vocals for the last time, was written for daughter Mhairi who was born in February 1971 and Spencer The Rover was later dedicated to son Spenser who was born shortly after the album was released in May 1975. Spencer the Rover is a traditional song that John had seen the Yorkshire born acoustic guitarist Robin Dransfield perform. Robin recalls, “in the summer of 1966 or 1967 I was doing a gig at the late-night Glasgow Folk Centre with Alex Campbell and in my first set I sang the traditional English song Spencer the Rover, which at the time was part of my standard folk-club repertoire. In the interval this manic, enthusiastic, bubbly-haired young guy forced me out onto the stairs and insisted I teach him the song, which he was very taken with. His name was John Martyn! So, on the stairs and later at Alex’s flat I did so. I later recorded it on my own solo album but I’ve always thought John’s live and recorded version is the best I ever heard of this widely performed song. Not being an English folkie, he simply looked at it like any other song, Martynised it, and the result was simply wonderful.”

Some of the lyrics of The Message are traditional using part of a song known as Marie’s Wedding but John makes it all his own with his own arrangement of well placed chords and characteristic vocal delivery. His sensual and beseeching delivery of Lay It All Down is mesmerising.

Darling will you walk with me gentle
Come walking through the evening air
And I believe that you can make me feel better
And I believe that you might always be there
I want to move out of town
And follow the sound
And lay it all down.

Darling do you know I’ve been lonely
Darling do you know I’ve been bad
Darling do you know I’ve been lied to
Darling do you know it made me sad
I want to move out of town
And follow myself
And lay it all down.

John toured extensively to promote Sunday’s Child and was joined by Danny Thompson on bass and jazz drummer John Stevens, with Paul Kossoff making a guest appearance for the last few songs of some gigs. Kossoff was struggling with drug addiction and John tried hard to help him. The gig at Leeds University, on 13th February 1975 was recorded with a view to releasing a live album, but Island Records didn’t think the time was right for a live album, so John produced, designed and marketed his own album Live At Leeds (One World Records OW107CD) with their blessing and Island even arranged for EMI to press the records. John sold the limited edition of 10,000 by mail order and from his own front door in Hastings for the princely sum of £2.50p plus 50p postage and packing.

With his bent for spontaneity and innovation John now had an enviable reputation and his partnership with Danny Thompson on double bass remains one of the greatest partnerships of all time. John said that working with Danny, “was always fast; the whole of Sunday’s Child was recorded in six days and it was all improvised, all of it.” Danny feels it is “a perfect relationship. It reaches incredible highs because of its uniqueness and because it’s spontaneous. It’s this exploration and when it happens it tops anything that anybody can do. You can’t write that, you put these elements together and you let it develop but you can’t plan that.” The pair also had a legendary reputation for drink and drug fuelled hell raising, “We used to drink a great deal together. I got really drunk one night and woke up and he had nailed me under the carpet. I couldn’t move my hands or feet. I was very dry and had a hangover and I said Danny, please…get me, get me a drink. So he stepped over my helpless body, went to the phone and in a very loud voice said, can I have a glass of orange juice for one, please. Breakfast for one, please. I was screaming blue murder by this time. I was furious! He met the guy in the hall, so the guy couldn’t get into the room and see what was happening. He sat in front and downed the orange juice and had the breakfast.”

John still enjoyed playing solo and in June 1975 supported Pink Floyd on their Wish You Were Here tour at Knebworth Park. Onlookers recall that he walked onto the stage carrying his acoustic guitar to screams of abuse from the audience, “we don’t want to hear fucking folk music we want Floyd!” He then plugged his guitar into the echoplex, turned up the volume and proceeded to blow away the audience with a stunning performance that received a standing ovation.

Root Love, the venomous Clutches and Call Me Crazy are harder and more complex compositions in the vein of those on Inside Out. The reflective and beautiful You Can Discover fills your heart with joy.

One day our laughter comes flowing with the rain
And on the very next day, our sorrow sees us crying again
But darling you can discover the lover in me
I can discover the lover in thee
Together we can roll and tumble until the cows come home.

Sometimes our story’s just too beautiful to tell
Like the bells on a Sunday, blues on a Monday, go together well
But darling you can discover the lover in me
I can discover the lover in thee
Together we can rock and roll until the cows come home.

Sometimes, some kind of sadness shows upon your face
Sometimes, some kind of madness tries to take my place
But darling you can discover the lover in me
And I can discover the lover in thee
Together we can rock and roll until the cows come home.

One day our laughter comes flowing with the rain
And on the very next day our laughter sees us crying again
But darling you can discover the lover in me
And I can discover the lover in thee
I can discover the lover in thee
You can discover the lover in me
Together we can rock and roll until the cows come home.

John featured on a BBC Radio One John Peel Show recorded at Maida Vale on 7th January 1975, the show was broadcast on 13th January and his performance is released here in its entirety for the first time on CD. During the Sunday’s Child recording sessions John recorded Eight More Miles and Ellie Rhee but neither song appeared on the original album, however, Ellie Rhee has been added to this remastered version as a bonus song. The delightfully simple and touching ballad tells the story of a Tennessee slave who runs away from his master. In gaining his long aspired freedom he loses his one true love and now wonders if this is too high a price to pay for his freedom. The song is a traditional folk song from around the time of the American civil war and was one of the first songs that John learned to play on guitar in the early 1960s.

Ellie Rhee, so dear to me
Is gone forever more
And our home was down in Tennessee
Before this cruel war
Carry me back to Tennessee
That’s where I long to be
Among the fields of yellow, yellow corn
With my darling Ellie Rhee.

Well, why should I from day to day
Keep wishing to be free
From the master I run away
For to be with my Ellie Rhee
Carry me back to Tennessee
That’s where I long to be
Among the fields of yellow, yellow corn
With my darling Ellie Rhee.

Oh Ellie Rhee so dear to me
She’s gone forever more
And our home was down, down in Tennessee
Before this cruel war
Carry me back to Tennessee
That’s where I long to be
Among the fields of yellow, yellow corn
With my darling my Ellie Rhee.

With my darling my Ellie Rhee
With my darling my Ellie Rhee…

John adds a little country music to Sunday’s Child with his rendition of Satisfied Mind, written by Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes, and made famous by singer Porter Wagoner in 1955. September and November 1975 saw John touring again and by the end of the year he was totally exhausted. He decided to take a sabbatical and he visited Jamaica where he met Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. John played on Burning Spears’ Man In The Hills and on his return to England recorded a single with John Stevens Away called Anni, John taking lead vocal and lead guitar. The sabbatical continued through the whole of 1976 and into 1977, “I honestly believe I would have gone completely round the bend had I not gone and done that.”

On Saturday 16th of July 1977 the Island Records mobile studio was set up in the courtyard of Woolwich Green Farm in Theale, Berkshire. The house was in the middle of a lake and microphones were strategically placed, picking up the sound of wildlife and lapping water. Most of the recording was carried out between 3 and 6am and these quiet hours before dawn created the most magical atmosphere for recording… One World (Deluxe Version 981 922-2) was released in November 1977.

Sunday’s Child is a paradoxical album of immensely varied songs, most charming and passionate, celebrating John’s contentment with family ideals, “She’s the sweetest in the whole wide world. She wears her hair way up in a curl, just to show she’s my very own baby girl.” Others have undertones of his longing for the single life with all its freedom and adventure, “She got me, yeah, she got me in her clutches.”

What could be sweeter than love?

John Hillarby, September 2005